nobody wants my health advice
on how I healed from "chronic" illness
A few weeks ago I got a call from a friend who wanted me to talk to her friend who had recently been diagnosed with Lyme disease. I get calls and requests like this on a pretty regular basis and I understand why. The western medicine approach to chronic illnesses is focused around symptom management rather than the outrageous desires of vibrant health and erasure of symptoms altogether. That’s just not how industrialised medicine (I refuse to call it healthcare) works.
Allopathic medicine requires that we turn ourselves over to the trusted professional to fix us. We submit to their expertise and their course of action. When the answers are few and the pills many, many of us start looking around for alternatives. You may find things to dull down symptoms. It’s an effective way to tell your body to shut up, but you’re missing out on the gift of coming to understand the sacred union and brilliance of your body. Your body may continue calling out for awhile, but if you ignore it long enough, it stops. That doesn’t mean the problems don’t roll on.
Still, when I get these calls or emails, or smoke signals from afar, I’m hesitant to get involved. It’s not a hesitation based on not wanting to share what I’ve learned, but a hesitation from years, decades even, of experience that has taught me that people will only do what they are ready to do. More often than not, my answers are ignored or the target of their frustration. “Yeah, but, what would you say was the one or two things that turned the corner for you?” Who wants to hear in reply, “There isn’t one or two things, it’s everything.”
Years ago, I left my nutrition consulting practice because, by and large, I came to understand that most people want one of the following:
be told that what they are doing is right,
to be given a roadmap with precise and accurate measures/details/timelines and/or supplements/medicines to make ‘it’ go away, or
be given something to make them feel better without having to change doing the things they want to keep doing.
I’m generalising, of course, but generalisations are pretty useful and in this case, accurate. In the case of chronic illnesses, the truth is that very few amongst us want to sacrifice what might need to be sacrificed in order to truly heal. We would rather add things into our lives like a supplement, a little exercise here and there, some new superfood, then take the offending things out. But in reality, it’s usually what we take out that has the most profound effects on our health. Often, removing the hindrances to healing, just getting the heck out of our own way, allows our wondrous bodies to do what they are meant to do.
Before I was “diagnosed” with Lyme disease, I was told I had Lupus. Nope, they changed their mind, more likely MS. Nope, they thought better of it and came back with “autoimmune disease of unknown origin”. The specialists at the university hospital didn’t know what was going on, but they could see something fishy in my tests and recognised my symptoms as problematic. I was prescribed pills to dampen down the pain and inflammation. That’s what was on offer. And endless loop of pills and tests. I went another route. A route that took ten years of my life. There were times when the pain and exhaustion left me feeling hopeless, but what were my options? Today, I’m pretty darn healthy with enough pep to go about our physically demanding lives quite well, if I do say so myself. I thought I might share what I learned about going from sick to well over those challenging years.
Whether we are talking about depression or autoimmune disease or any other ailment, I believe that all of these approaches help our bodies to regain strength and vitality. It may not rid you of disease, in fact it probably won’t, but without setting a healthy foundation, you will not find anything in a pill or a herbal concoction, or through any guru, that will bring you answers. I went that route at first. We had already been eating a solely organic, traditional foods diet for two decades when I got sick. From all outside measure, I was doing everything right. I felt pretty sad for myself in those early years of being sick. I was deeply frustrated. We were spending tens of thousands of dollars on specialists in Canada and the US, supplement regimens, antibiotic cycles that destroyed my gut, and alternative doctors and practitioners of every persuasion. Every new lead started off so hopeful and ended with disappointment. I remember thinking that if I could just find that one doctor, the right supplement, the answer would appear and I would be well again.
It didn’t work that way. What did happen is that over those years, I was forced to face my reality, nobody was coming to save me. Nobody had the ticket to the bus I wanted to ride. I had to do it myself and in order to do it myself, everything, and I literally mean EVERYTHING was up for review. I had to let go of all the stories I had been told, no matter how backed up by science they were. If it worked for others but didn’t work for me, it was gone. If it was the holy grail of wellness but caused me issues, it was gone. If a specialist directed me to do something that my body didn’t jive with, they were gone. Bit by bit, I started listening to my body over the gospel of the “healers”. It was tough at first, I had become so accustomed to respecting the intelligence of people outside of myself, but the more I did it, the better I started to feel. If I read that a certain food was good for me, I no longer accepted that as truth. Instead, I became the great observer and keen listener to my body. How do I tell someone that? How do I say, “You know, you should dump all of your doctors and start listening to your body.” It’s too wishy-washy and most people don’t even know what that means.
So how do you even listen to yourself when there’s so much static? You need to remove the static. You need to get grounded and clear. You cannot listen to your body, paying attention with clarity of mind and emotion, when you are creating interference at the same time. So, start there - get rid of the static. The simple truth is that if you are eating foods, drinking, smoking, not moving, interacting with toxic people, whatever it is, there is no observable starting point to be found.
There are basic, foundational pieces I had to have in place on my route to healing (I am doing everything I can to avoid “healing journey” here lest I grit my teeth down to fractured nubs). I don’t believe that any of these things fixed me, but I think all of them allowed my body time to focus on healing rather than dealing with one assault after another. And maybe that fixed me. I don’t know, I claim nothing, I am but a wee little peon witnessing the miracle of a body renewing itself. My motivation was teasing out the assaults on my body and removing them, no matter how seemingly small. The inflammation that had become a regular part of my life completely vanished, allowing my body, brain, and gut time for regeneration instead of the continuous patching-of-leaks cycle I was previously caught in.
The first thing to consider if you’re dealing with chronic illness is food and water. What of it? Everything of it. If you’re eating seed oils, processed foods, pasteurised dairy, genetically engineered foods, conventional foods grown in pesticides/herbicides/fertilised with sewage sludge, sugars, highly allergenic and other toxic foods, well, you better address that before you do anything else. There’s nothing else to do before that part of your house is in order.
The exasperated questions I get from unwell people usually start with, “I’m doing everything and nothing is helping.” My first question is always, “What are you eating? Are you addicted to sugar?” To which I get a “I know, I know, it’s my downfall.” There’s nowhere to go from there, there just isn’t. You will not find the secret path to bypass getting your diet in order. And water? If you’re not drinking clean water, nothing is working as it should. It’s that simple.
To illustrate how ruthless you might have to be with your diet, I will share that while I had been eating a very healthy diet of farmed, organic, unprocessed foods, free of grains and sugars, that wasn’t enough. I ended up going on my version of the carnivore diet, which included organs, a wide variety of animal meats from nose to tail (literally), broths, eggs from geese/turkeys/ducks/hens, and a lot of high cartilage foods like pig ears/tails, high gelatine bone broths etc. To this, I added fasting. And miracles started to occur.
Then guess what? Over time, my body said, “You know, that was great, but I could use some winter squash right now.” And I heard it. And then my body said, “Too much fasting.” And I stopped. And so it went. I did not get entrenched and I paid attention. That’s the key. Don’t let anyone sell you their story, write your own.
The other area that must be addressed in ensuring a strong foundation for health is your environment. I’ve written about a healthy home before so I won’t go into it too much now. But I will say that if you are living in a moldy home or somewhere with poor air quality, that will need to be addressed. Everything from the soaps you use, the clothes you wear, to the wifi around you matters, especially when you’re not well. Remember what I said, everything has to be up for review, nothing is more precious than your health.
In addition to these obvious environmental factors are the more subtle ones. What exactly is the environment you live in? How do you live? Do you spend most of your time indoors? If so, how much? How much time are you outside? How are you outside? How much time do you spend in nature? What does that even look like? What feeds you and connects you in nature? Do you feel most rejuvenated after throwing your arms around a tree and meditating for awhile or does the rush of water clear your mind? When was the last time you pushed your fingers into the earth or sat underneath the stars and allowed awe to wash over you? These moments of connection to our natural world, our home, should not be viewed as pretty little side-notes, they should be cultivated with purposeful intention. We are animals connected to the natural world, living outside of that should be seen as a severing - us from source. Nothing truly thrives without its life source and the natural world is ours. We must prioritise the nurturing of that relationship. We cannot be full without it.
Of course, in the natural world we also meet all that feeds us, all that we are intrinsically connected to: sunshine on our skin, the earth under our toes, movement that requires agility and balance and strength, plant medicines, mysteries, nourishment and stories. We are provided with the hormetic stresses that build resilient bodies: too hot, too cold, burning muscles, huffing lungs. How to ever quantify any of it? Who would dare want to? Just find those places, be there as much as you can, and be present to receive the abundant gifts with a grateful heart.
Another foundational piece of the wellness pie is you, just you with you. Sitting with yourself in silence. Slowness. Presence. Meditation. Prayer. Opening yourself up to marvel. Stillness below an apple tree. Lying underneath windblown trees. However that looks for you, you must find it. If your children are small, it might mean waking up early to have that sacred time. There is always a way and those few moments, must be non-negotiable no matter the circumstance. Gratitude as practice. Again and again and again.
So, there it is, just getting the foundation set so you can deal with whatever ails you. Can you see why this response usually gets an eye-roll from someone hoping I will just pass along the name of a supplement or the doctor that fixed me? Truth is, there is no key. We can resist the truth that the onus of getting well is on us or we can be empowered by it. It’s your choice, but it is a choice.
I know I was pissed off when I kept running up against brick walls. I felt like hell! I wanted to get on with my life! I was so sick and tired and there was a time when I felt like that might just be it for me, maybe that was going to be my life for all of time - sick and tired. Then I would rally. Then I would crash. Then I would rally again. As long as there’s some determination left in you, there’s hope. I was a stubborn mofo, a mofo with grace. It’s how I like to do things. You find your way, but do find a way. This is your life we’re talking about. It’s worth every drop of tenacity you can muster.
Once I got all of the foundational parts down, the rest was just window dressing. I think that most people dealing with chronic illnesses, and indeed those not even sick, would feel and perform substantially better just by tending the soil of their garden. Today, I don’t take any supplements or see any practitioners. I just focusing on movement, nature, eating nutrient dense foods, and living in a spiritually mindful way with people I love and am loved by. My Lyme disease remains in remission, whatever that means. What I know is that I am pain free, clear of mind, strong in body. There’s no big secret to find, it’s just the work of alignment to how we were designed to live. I can bring back all of my symptoms in a snap, I just let all of those things go. Actually, with me, I only have to let a few of those things go. So I don’t.
Am I healed? I would say the question is irrelevant. I haven’t gone to anyone to be tested again. The numbers on the paper are meaningless to me now. I live well, I feel relatively okay in a time of great sadness and stress in our lives, and my mind is clear. That’s good for me. I trust myself to do what I need to do to stay well. That confidence and trust in myself have been some of the most profound gifts of my life. All of it, earned, which is the only real way to get it at all.
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The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté
The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein
The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton
Note: I’m working on my next “ruminations on health” essay. This one will be on food. For members only, please head on over to the audio version of this essay and include any areas you would specifically like to see me address on this topic. I will try to fit in what I can. For all subscribers, the finished essay will still be made available freely to all, as always.